Been here? Rate It!
Canberra becomes Enlightened – Part 1
This review relates to a visual show across a number of venues. To give the reader a better insight I have decided to split the review into two parts – purely to let you see more images. Click here to go to Canberra becomes Enlightened – Part 2 for more pictures.
Annually, for the two weeks prior to Canberra Day in early March, the public buildings in the Parliamentary Triangle become canvases and turn into illuminated public artworks. The National Library, Questacon (Science Museum), the National Portrait Gallery, the National Art Gallery, Old Parliament House and Parliament House are all lit up via projected images in an event called Enlighten. Even the water feature on the avenue up to the High Court bust into flames in 2014.
You can easily walk between all these venues.
In past years the projections were mainly static (changing every couple of minutes) images. 2014 saw the incorporation of many more moving images – the best being on the National Portrait Gallery and Questacon.
The event which is complemented by bands in the park area, street theatre and late opening hours in the galleries (entrance free with fee for special exhibitions as during normal hours) attracts thousands of people each year though 2014 numbers (based on the nights I attended) were significantly down on those of 2013 which coincided with Canberra’s Centenary celebrations.
While food is available via a number of stalls (much to few) I recommend you eat before going or take a picnic with you as the queues for food can be dreadfully long. However, if you do need a drink, and who doesn’t, check out the purpose built wine bar in the lobby of the National Library which also hosts a live band to amuse you while you imbibe.
An additional program of paid events is also timed to coincide with Enlighten. As this varies from year to year I suggest you check the program on the website below for details.
Enlighten runs from 8pm to 10pm (midnight on Friday and Saturdays). The galleries/museums, food vendors etc are open earlier so I suggest you get there a bit before 8pm as parking becomes difficult if you are driving.
A great evening out and not to be missed if you are in Canberra.
The event is free.
- Arts and Culture
Canberra becomes Enlightened – Part 2
This review relates to a visual show across a number of venues. To give the reader a reasonable insight I have decided to split it into two parts – purely to let you see more images. This is Part 2 of the review. I suggest you read Part 1 for details of the event prior to, or in addition to, looking at the pictures here. Click here to go to ‘Canberra becomes Enlightened – Part 1’.
Note: Pictures one and two attached are from Enlighten 2013 while the remaining pictures are from the 2014 event.
- Arts and Culture
National Gallery - Turrell's ‘Within Without'
(See separate review for the National Gallery of Australia itself)
For me art has got to look good and or say something to me - preferably both. Given this criteria I am generally not seen as an aficionado of modern art and I certainly do not profess to be an expert thereon nor even understand ninety per cent of it.
James Turrell’s (US artist) most recent Skyspace (various around the world), entitled “Within Without” is a fantastic addition to the National Gallery. It looks great and I think I understand it.
Does it say anything to me ? No, but that doesn’t matter. Do I know what Turrell was thinking or how he was feeling when he created this piece of art? No, and I don’t care. What I see, I love.
Within Without, one of Turrell largest and most complex pieces to date, is all about light and space and at its most basic is a viewing chamber which affects / accentuates the way you perceive / see light.
You enter the work via a sloping walkway to find a large square based pyramid and soft red ochre walls. A basalt stupa, highlighted by turquoise water, rises in the centre and inside that is the viewing chamber (or skyspace) open to the sky. Inside the stupa both movement and sound are intensified and the light is extraordinary. The skyspace is large enough for 24 people. Viewers sit on benches along the edge to view the sky through an opening in the roof.
I visited during the day and was mystified but apparently it’s even more fantastic at dawn or dusk – marking the transition between day and night – when light changes more quickly. Living in Canberra, I will go back for another look.
For the more artistic among my readers the National Gallery website states
“Turrell reveals the immensity of the natural world and the beauty of celestial architecture. Within without offers artlessness, simplicity, unhurried perception.”
Maybe so, who am I to argue?
Highly recommended to everyone – including artistic philistines (not that I imagine VT would attract such a type of person).
Open daily (outside the gallery)
During dawn and dusk there is a light cycle. View it any morning or evening. Duration varies from 30 to 45 minutes.
Arrive 15 minutes prior to start to ensure your eyes have adjusted.
Entry fee : Free
- Museum Visits
National Gallery – Sculpture Garden
Located lake-side of the National Gallery of Australia, the Sculpture Garden is a great place to wander around and admire not only the sculptures but the garden itself. Get there in time to admire it before the main Gallery opens at 10am or combine it with a longer walk around the central basin of the lake.
It’s a very well thought out garden which contains sculptures – sculptures which are better placed outside than in. What I mean is, both garden and sculptures are on display. On display are 26 sculptures made by International and Australian artists including works by Auguste Rodin (my personal favourites) , Henry Moore, Alexander Calder, Aristide Maillol, Emile Antoine Bourdelle, Gaston Lachaise, Mark di Suvero, Bert Flugelman, and Inge Kingalong along with a group of Pukamani poles from Bathurst Island and several slit-drums from Vanuatu.
The garden is laid out based on seasons of the year (though autumn it not represented) with a Winter garden closest to the building with winter flowering acacias. The Summer garden is the shady area beneath the Casaurinas and near a marsh pond. The Spring garden, with spring flowering Grevillias and Acacias is closest to the lake.
The fog/mist sculpture by Fujiko Nakaya in the Summer garden area operates from 12.30 – 2pm daily otherwise visit anytime of day.
- Museum Visits
National Gallery of Australia
The National Gallery of Australia, contains a very varied collection of work ranging from art as in pictures to fabric, jewellery, sculpture, etc. Its collection is divided into a number of geographic collections
Aboriginal Art Collection
In 2010 the National Gallery building was extended and a new wing – basically devoted to Aboriginal art (but including a new entrance and foyer, Gallery shop and a new function and event space was added). While formally the Gallery’s Aboriginal display offering was limited and not that interesting it now offers a much larger range in beautiful bright and spacious surroundings. The most stunning, evocative and perhaps controversial piece is the Aboriginal Memorial which can be entered directly from the main (new) reception area (see below). The Gallery’s collection of Aboriginal art (not all on display) includes about 7500 pieces and includes bark paintings, western style paintings (eg Albert Namatjira), more traditional “dot” style paintings, textiles, weavings, prints, drawings, photography, headdresses and sculpture.
Australian Art Collection
This collection covers the early colonial period to the present day with art of all styles form realism impressionism, symbolism, expressionism realism, surrealism and modern art covered.
Sculptures (in a large part religious), textiles, paintings, prints and manuscripts are displayed in three main spaces dedicated to Art of the Indian subcontinent, Art of Southeast Asia and Art of East Asia.
European & American Art Collection
All major styles are covered in three galleries with a number of very famous artists such as Monet, Picasso, Cézanne, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Warhol represented.
Pacific Arts Collection
A very worthy collection of Polynesian and Melanesian art from Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and the South Pacific Islands in between.
Based on what I like (and this is off course a personal recommendation) you should not miss the following items:
Jackson Pollock - Blue Poles (or to use the artist’s title - No 11) is an abstract expressionist painting and one of the most famous works by American artist Jackson Pollock. It was purchased amid controversy (over its cost at $1.3m) by the National Gallery in 1973
Sidney Nolan - Ned Kelly Series – a series of paintings on the life of famous Australian Bushranger (outlaw) Ned Kelly.
Monet - Waterlilies and Haystacks at noon – paintings which likely need no introduction
Aboriginal Memorial - The Memorial consists of 200 hollow log coffins from central Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory with each pole representing a year of European occupation. Together they stand as a memorial to all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who lost their lives during the colonial occupation in Australia from 1788 to 1988. Created 1987-88. The path through the installation represents the Glyde River in central Arnhem Land.
Sculpture Garden (see separate tip)
Turrell’s Skyspace (see separate tip)
I have refrained (though hard it is to do) from commenting on a number of pieces in the Gallery (including an approximately 2m by 2m white canvas) on the basis that art can be a very personal thing. But really .......... I stop!
The gallery hosts excellent world class touring exhibitions – check out what’s on when you visit. At the time of writing this tip “TOULOUSE- LAUTREC - Paris & the Moulin Rouge” was finishing up awaiting the Arrival of “TURNER FROM THE TATE -The Making of a Master”. Alas these are not free!
The Gallery also hosts talks and films on a regular basis – many of these have no admission charge – check out the website for details.
Shop – The Gallery has a large and well stocked gift shop. Lots of interesting things in here including posters.
Catering – The Gallery has a cafe and an outdoor (weather permitting) coffee shop. While the food and coffee are both of good quality, prices are outrageously expensive.
Photography is prohibited inside the building – attached internal photos were taken some years ago before this rule came in.
Opening hours - Daily 10am – 5pm (closed Christmas day)
Admission fee : Free (but special exhibitions incur a charge)
- Museum Visits
Canberra Contemporary Art Space (CCAS)
The Canberra Contemporary Art Space (CCAS) describes itself thus:
”one of a national network of contemporary arts organisations (CAOs) dedicated to the generation, presentation and promotion of innovative contemporary visual arts practice in Australia. Its program of exhibitions, performances, artists’ talks and publications aims to provide opportunities for artists in the ACT to exhibit their work within a context of current national and international practice.
CCAS has two galleries in Canberra - Gorman House in Civic and Manuka.
I have just visited the gallery at Gorman House which has a small exhibition area. The gallery concentrates on new, innovative and contemporary art which will certainly make it not everyone’s cup of tea. My take on modern art is that some of it is good, the majority is not. On my last visit to Gorman House Market I popped in here for a look and was pleasantly surprised as there were a few pieces I actually enjoyed.
One of these was a display based on “Love Hearts” - Picture 2. Love Hearts , if you don't know, are British hard, round shaped sweets in a variety of fruit flavours featuring a short, love-related message on one side of the sweet. Messages such as - let’s kiss, I love you, spoil me , say yes, hold me, and so on. This exhibit brought back childhood memories of eating these sweets.
Another item that caught by eye (Picture 3), in a positive sense, was a ‘knitted’ chair and red balloon like thing on the end of a ball of red wool. Something different.
What, if anything, either of these items (or anything else on show) was saying from an artistic perspective eludes me.
I certainly recommend you pop in for a look if you visit the Saturday markets at Gorman House (see separate tip) – you might be surprised, as I was. The gallery is also open during the week as detailed below.
Exhibitions constantly change – either check the web-site to see what’s on before you go or be a devil like me and take pot luck.
11am to 5pm, Tuesday to Friday and 10am to 4pm Saturday (same as markets)
Entry Fee - Free
If going to the Manuka gallery check online first as it is only open when exhibitions are on.
Gallery Hours: 11am to 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday during advertised exhibition dates
Location 19 Furneaux St, Forrest
St John’s Schoolhouse – Canberra’s first school
This is the region's first school and school master's residence. It was built in 1845 (70 years before Canberra was named) by Robert Campbell of Duntroon estate, to provide an elementary education for children from the estate and surrounding farms.
The original building was destroyed in a fire in 1864 so the building you see today is a replacement building of that date, again built by the Campbell family. The school operated continuously from 1845 to 1880 and again from 1895 to 1907 when it finally closed as a school. Between 1907 and 1969 the building was either leased out or used by St John’s church.
In 1969 the Schoolhouse opened as a museum of early district education. It displays many nineteenth and early twentieth-century photographs relating to Canberra's schools, churches, rural history and the beginnings of the city. While this is a small display it is very informative if you take time to examine it in some detail. It provides the visitor a great photographic summary of Canberra’s development. While I don’t know when the black and white photo attached was taken it shows St Johns church and schoolhouse before much other development in the area. The chap out shooting is located roughly where ANZAC Parade is to-day. The absence of the current spire on St John’s church dates the photo as pre 1878.
Entrance fee: Gold coin donation welcome.
Wednesday 10 a.m. – 12 noon
Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays 2.00 – 4.00 p.m.
Closed on Good Friday and Christmas Day
The National Portrait Gallery -Heroes and villains
The latest addition to the Parliamentary prescient and located next to the High Count of Australia and the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery was opened in 2008. In contrast to the High Court I find this building (as opposed to the art therein) more appealing on the outside than on the inside – the latter being rather pedestrian from a design perspective though eminently functional as a gallery – with natural light - which, of course, is its purpose. Per the Gallery’s website, the “building favours intimacy and connection in lieu of reverence and the monumental’. I’ll let you be the judge if that equates with my assessment of “rather pedestrian” in regards to the interior at least.
Prior to 2008 (though only since 1999 as a truly separate and accepted national portrait gallery notwithstanding that a national gallery was proposed back in the early 1900s) the gallery was located in Old Parliament House (OPH) All in all, I preferred the display in OPH with its air of a gentleman’s lounge and where it complemented the display of politicians and monarchs in the adjacent Kings Hall but times move on (sometimes alas) and admittedly it did outgrow that location.
The purpose of the Gallery is, not surprisingly, to increase the understanding and appreciation of the Australian people – their identity, history, culture, creativity and diversity – through portraiture. Given its geographical restriction to Australian people its level of appeal to international visitors is likely to be limited though most readers would recognise Captain James Cook and HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark together with others who are also well known outside Australia. Locals will recognise many more. On display are some 400 portraits of people - heroes and villains - who have shaped Australia and who continue to shape the country. I highly recommend a visit for all Australians and others with even a passing interest in those people.
The Gallery also has special exhibitions (some attract an entrance fee) from time to time. When I last visited (Feb 2013) a sunning portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia (among other places) was on temporary display (to 31 March 2013) pending relocation to a permanent home in London. The painting in question is a diamond jubilee picture of a contemplative Queen Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey – viewers are drawn to imagine what the Queen's thoughts might be as she celebrates 60 years on the throne. The painting is by Australian artist, Ralph Heimans, who was the only artist granted a sitting with Her Majesty in her jubilee year. (View the picture here - http://www.portrait.gov.au/site/exhibition_subsite_glorious.php - though see it in real if you can). Another notable picture, and part of the permanent collection, by Ralph Heimans of Justice Kirby - of High Court fame - in the same style is also on display – notable in that Justice Kirby has been the only senior judicial officer in Australia to opening admit to being gay.
Photography inside the gallery is prohibited.
Daily -10am - 5pm except Christmas Day
The Portrait Cafe (02) 6102 7160 and Portrait Store (02) 6102 7170 are open daily from 10am - 4.30pm.
Entrance Fee : Free to main exhibition - some special exhibitions attract a fee
National Capital Exhibition - Get your bearings
A great place to get your bearings and learn something of the story of the national capital through a combination of audio-visual displays, films, photographs and artifacts prior to going out and exploring. The Canberra "Sound and Light Show" with its scale model of central Canberra gives an excellent overview of the city's layout and the location of all the main tourist sites. Also look out though the windows for an excellent view of the central basin of Lake Burley Griffin.
The exhibition outlines how Canberra was chosen as the site for the national capital on 8 October 1908 – yes it really was a compromise as the people of Melbourne and Sydney respectively could not stomach the other city being selection capital. An almost empty sheep paddock 300kms from Sydney and 600kms was chosen as the capital of Australia.
A competition was then launched to find someone to design a city. This was won by American architect, Walter Burley Griffin. Today Canberra is recognised as one of the world’s greatest planned capital cities in the company of Washington DC, Ottawa, Brasilia and Milton Keynes. Ok, I’m joking about Milton Keynes – its is, of course, not the British capital and some would even argue it ranks far for one of the world’s greatest planned cities. I’ve not been there so I wont buy into the latter argument.
Prior to entering, or preferably on leaving – with your new found knowledge on Canberra, the National Capital Exhibition do pause for a minute or two to admire the Walter Burley Griffin Terrazzo (on the ground!) – a mosaic created by Australian artist David Humphries of Walter Burley Griffin’s 1912 prize winning design for Canberra.
Allow about 30 minutes for your overview.
9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday. Closed public holidays except Australia Day and Canberra Day.
Admission Fee : Free
National Archives – certainly surprised me
The National Archives of Australia is responsible for keeping federal government records – the Government and Public (civil) Service filing system if you like. My initial thoughts were what could possibly be of any interest to a visitor among the 40 million odd records created by bureaucrats/armed forces and politicians and held by the National Archives? Then I thought – in 40 million records there must be something of interest and indeed there is - this place holds records ranging from those covering dramatic events that shaped the nation to decisions that impacted the lives of individual Australians.
The records of Government and the Public Service, of course, record or at least mirror the history of Australia since 1900 when it ceased to be a British colony and became the Commonwealth of Australia. The oldest and most important documents at the National Archives are those excising Australia from Britain – Australia’s “birth certificate” and related documents. These documents are included in a separate display – within the National Archives – in the Federation Gallery and are not routinely on public display (see separate tip).
While great to coincide your visit with a time when the Federation Gallery is open this will not always be possible. Don’t let that stop you visiting though.
The main display gallery contains a fascinating collection of documents covering all aspects of Australian history since 1901, including:
*Australia at War (world wars and regional wars) – including an original set of “bingo balls” used to determine who would be conscripted for military service in WWII;
*Social history – including an amazing mid 1960’s minute outlining why women could not hold the office of overseas Trade Commissioner. Certainly not something any public servant could write in 2013. Maybe it’s the sense of embarrassment that causes it to be hidden in a drawer;
*The dismissal of the Whitlam Government by the Governor General;
*The story (ongoing) of immigration to Australia;
*Papers of prime ministers, governors-general and other prominent individuals; and
*So much more.
Two other ongoing and excellent exhibitions relate to literary censorship in Australia and a photographic depiction of Canberra from 1920-1935 (photos by government photographer William James Midenhall. Not perhaps well known is the fact that Australia was one of the most prolific censors in the western world. Thousands of books, magazines, items of music, etc were banned between the 1920s and 1970s – read all about them over a coffee in the café where this small display is located.
In addition to the permanent displays the National Archives put on temporary exhibitions. A very poignant and touching exhibition on Britain’s child migrants to Australia was on when I visited last week (closes 10 February, 2013). From the 1860s over 100,000 British destitute children were sent to various colonies/ex-colonies under child migration schemes (Australia operated the last of those schemes and received children as late as the mid 1960s).
A new exhibition outlining the development of Canberra as the Nation’s Capital opens 1 March 2013 – timed to coincide with Canberra’s 2013 centenary celebrations.
For those wanting to delve more deeply into the archives a reading room is available.
So much to see in this place but be cautioned that you do need to read things – makes sense given the nature of the place!
There is a small café on-site.
Entrance fee: Free
Opening hours – 9 – 5 daily except Christmas Day.
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
National Museum Of Australia
Surprisingly, Australia has a National Museum with a modern and contemporary architecture. Not only the outside look modern, the displays are interactive and interesting. The staffs are very friendly, helpful, and professional. They make the initiative to talk to you and explain to you the museum and the history of their special field. This is the place that you can learn the history and the people of Australia.
A must visit place in Canberra.
Open daily 9am-5pm.
Admission is Free.
- Budget Travel
- Museum Visits
National Gallery Of Australia
National Gallery of Australia displays not only artworks that have defined the Australian nation and also admire a selection of iconic international works from various art period. They also exhibit various Australian prints and India art among others.
I really like the stunning artworks and sculptures around the building.
Open daily 10am-5pm.
- Arts and Culture
- Budget Travel
Australian National Museum
One of Australia's most brilliant and diverse museums is the National Museum of Australia in Canberra within the heart of the Australian Capital Territory. It was established in 1980 by the National Museum of Australia Act to preserve and interpret Australian history, cultures, people, and events that made Australia what it is today. It was homeless until March 11, 2001 when it opened its doors in the national capital. Diverse collections and exhibits ranging from 50,000 Before Present upwards to the current day with focus on the Aborigine, the original inhabitants, their beliefs, culture, and myths. It covers European settlement of these shores from 1788 to modern day and focuses on the material culture that Australia creates both past and present. They possess the largest collection of Aboriginal bark paintings and stone tools found in Australia. Exhibits rotate around like all major museums and during my visit had a feature called "Not Just Ned" covering the Irish immigration to Australia. In addition to a massive artifact collection, they have a wide range of books, catalogues, and journals in their archives. Highly innovative and on track with technology, the Museum is notable for its advancement and design. They have an incredible outreach program with regional communities as well as a inclusion with the Aborigines. The Museum was designed by architect and design director Howard Raggatt themed with knotted ropes symbolizing the weaving together of Australian stories and tales. The entire building and grounds tells the story of creation, the Dreaming, and immigration of these shores. The building is at the center of the knot with trailing ropes or strips extending from the building, forming large loops that are walkways extending past the neighbouring AIATSIS building ending in a large curl aligning as the "Uluru Axis" representing the Australian natural landmark. This design incorporates Bed Maddock's "Philosophy Tape", Jackson Pollock's "Blue Poles", the Boolean String, A knot, Ariadne's thread, and the Aboriginal Dreamtime story of he Rainbow Serpent creating the land. Within the Museum complex is an exact copy of the lightning flash zigzag that Libeskind created for the Berlin Museum by breaking a five pointed star of David. This initially brought allegations of plagiarism. Its exterior is covered with anodised aluminum panels that include worlds written in braille. These words include "mate", "She'll be right", "sorry", and "forgive us our genocide". In 2006 the Museum was damaged by a hail storm that caused the ceiling to collapse, expose power cables, and flood the floor.
- Museum Visits
National Capital Exhibition
If you've got this far then you'll already be aware that Canberra is 'artificial' in that it's been planned from scratch and is quite a recent edition to the Australian landscape.
This small museum is actually quite a pleasant surprise. I was expecting quite a dry display, but the history of ACT and the Australian National Capital is told here in an interesting way, with plenty of colourful visuals, not too much text and various interactive opportunities. From pre-European settlement through to present day developments. Not a huge exhibition, can kill maybe an hour max depending on your boredom threshold, it's just about the right size. Take a look at the interactive map inside and the original plan for Canberra designed by Burley Griffin which is laid into the ground outside the main entrance.
The gift shop could do with some imagination, much of it is of the 'cuddly koalas' and Aussie flags variety - that is, very little that is specific to the city or this museum. The coffee shop is a bit sterile but with nice enough coffee and a lovely view of the park.
There's a short video presentation which is worthwhile. Overall this is a bit of a 'isn't our new Capital city great and isn't it great to be in Australia' tour, but taken with a pinch of salt it's worthwhile and informative. You might even be able to work out where things are in Canberra that little bit easier after a visit!
- Museum Visits
- Budget Travel
Canberra Museum and Art Gallery
The Canberra Museum and Art Gallery (CMAG) is a bit of an unknown gem in Canberra. Right in the centre of the city, this gallery/museum is tucked inside a revamped office building, near the Canberra Theatre.
As well as permanent exhibitions on the settlement of Canberra, there is a well designed gallery which hosts exhibitions of often interesting and unusual art and sculpture. The space is pleasant, and has a little atrium cafe that is a lovely spot for a short coffee.
They also have a small side room where they hold miniature exhibitions of objects owned by locals. My family once displayed our easter egg collection there. Each year the family members sit down and paint a blown egg, and we have been doing it for about 25 years so now have a large and fascinating collection that reflects our family's history.
Other mini-exhibitions have included teapots, snow domes and egg cups. Its a fun way to engage local Canberrans in the gallery and the collections can be truly bizarre! There are usually activities connected with these exhibitions. In our case, the family got together and gave egg painting sessions, and in the case of the teapot exhibition, ran tea ceremonies and story telling for the children.
Entry to the museum is free, but very occasionally there might be a cost attached to a particular activity or exhibit.
- Arts and Culture
- Museum Visits
- Family Travel
- Book now for big savings!
- Hotels.com Outstanding choice of hotels all over the world at fantastic prices.
- Save money, Book now!
- Booking.com Excellent choice, Low rates
Canberra Travel Guide
Explore the World
- Ban Lamai Hotels
- Estero Island Hotels
- Butuan City Hotels
- Ha Ha Tonka State Park Hotels